A dilemma of language: ‘‘Natural disasters’’ in academic literature

2019-09-16T13:25:04Z (GMT) by Ksenia Chmutina Jason Von Meding
For decades sections of the academic community have been emphasizing that disasters are not natural. Nevertheless, politicians, the media, various international organizations—and, more surprisingly, many established researchers working in disaster studies—are still widely using the expression ‘‘natural disaster.’’ We systematically analyzed the usage of the expression ‘‘natural disaster’’ by disaster studies researchers in 589 articles in six key aca- demic journals representative of disaster studies research, and found that authors are using the expression in three principal ways: (1) delineating natural and human-induced hazards; (2) using the expression to leverage popularity; and (3) critiquing the expression ‘‘natural disaster.’’ We also identified vulnerability themes that illustrate the con- text of ‘‘natural disaster’’ usage. The implications of con- tinuing to use this expression, while explicitly researching human vulnerability, are wide-ranging, and we explore what this means for us and our peers. This study particu- larly aims to stimulate debate within the disaster studies research community and related fields as to whether the term ‘‘natural disaster’’ is really fit for purpose moving forward.